Sabal Landscape Solutions Owner and FNGLA President, Shawn Thomas talks about the importance of good maintenance and the biggest issues facing Florida landscapers and growers.
Shawn Thomas had been working various landscaping and horticulture jobs in Jacksonville, Florida when he saw a need for better service.
“Nobody was taking real care of their client’s yards. They were just mow, blow and go.”
So after working for other people for six years, he went out on his own. He founded Sabal Landscape Solutions, a detail-oriented maintenance company that puts customers first.
“We are more about quality than volume,” he says. “We spend a lot of time at properties. The shortest is two hours, the bigger ones are all day.”
Thomas’ attention to detail has won over high-end clients. Most of his properties are along the St. Johns River or the Atlantic Ocean, handled by three-man crews.
“We hand-prune everything and understand the proper way to care for plants,” he says. “Mowing is done with 21-inch push mower. The big ones tear up the turf, especially around here after a lot of rain. The light footprint is crucial.”
“We also do interior pruning,” he continues. “When you just shear the tops over and over again, it looks good from a distance, but if you open it up, it’s not a healthy plant.”
Sabal Landscape Solutions handles everything on the maintenance side, along with irrigation, drainage and lighting. Because his clients are on the water, Thomas limits the use of herbicides and hand pulls everything he can.
“A good maintenance company makes their gardens look better. It’s a great partnership. You don’t want something that looks good at install but in five years, it’s too much maintenance, too overgrown.”
As far as coastal environments, Thomas says the plant palette is extremely limited. He recommends Indian Hawthorns, pittosporum, native grasses, St. Augustine turf, and—his namesake—sabal palms.
Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Association (FNGLA)
Thomas is also the outgoing president of FNGLA, the Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Association, which happens to be the largest agricultural association in the United States.
“I’ve gotten to travel all over Florida and meet various people in the industry. It’s been really fun but also really meaningful to discuss the issues everyone is facing, from water conservation, fertilizer bans and shortages in the workforce.”
Thomas says many in the industry are frustrated because the people who make the laws don’t understand all the issues.
“Individual counties have placed bans on fertilizer, but they can’t regulate consumers from going in and buying up bags and bags and then overusing it,” he says. “The people in the industry are being limited, and we’re the ones that know the proper way to use it.”
Thomas says the state of Florida alone could use about 200 thousand more workers in the landscaping industry.
“Immigration programs, when you use the right channels, are expensive, and high schools are cutting vocational programs, so you don’t have a bunch of kids here wanting to go into landscaping either.”
Thomas also says many people point the finger at landscapers for using too much water, when in fact many companies are helping conserve it.
“You can save a lot of water with the right irrigation design and the right plant in the right place,” Thomas says. “Some of the watering technology the major growers are using is unbelievable.”
Thomas advises anyone in the industry to stay informed of the issues.
“Call your legislator, talk to your district rep, and go to county commissioner meetings,” he says. “And get involved with an association.”
FNGLA has canceled The Landscape Show in Orlando in September but its Tropical Plant International Expo, TPIE, is scheduled in January as for now.